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Trespassers and Squatters: 9 Tips to Secure Your Property
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
By Ryan Ricci | Other articles by Ryan Ricci
As more condominium and townhome communities appear in urban centres, the issue of trespassers and squatters on these properties increases. Let's face it, urban centres with all their conveniences also introduce their own unique problems associated with higher population densities. More people; the greater the potential of having a trespasser or squatter on your property. A trespasser could be a person looking for a quiet doorway, or stairwell to sleep for the night, or a vandal or a criminal of opportunity looking for a quick and easy place to ply their trade. A squatter may be someone who has found a vacant utility room, secluded underground parking area or suite and may decide to make it their home.
Securing your property from these threats doesn't have to be an expensive or time consuming affair. It just takes a little planning and a thing called CPTED (pronounced Sep-Ted). CPTED is short for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, and is a concept developed in 1960 on the premise that the opportunity to commit a crime can be reduced, if not prevented by changing or adapting the physical environment. (1)
Consider these 9 CPTED based tips to help secure your community and safeguard your residents and their property.
Implement good lighting in common and low traffic isolated areas. According to a 2016 study (3) conducted by the Universities of Chicago, Oregon and Pennsylvania; in New York City, lighting reduced outdoor index crimes (2) by approximately 36% and reduced outdoor non-index crimes by 39%. (3,4) As well, research has shown there is a significant relationship between fear of crime and lighting, (5,6) a major consideration for the peace of mind for your residents, guests and staff. Areas often overlooked when it comes to lighting are external alcoves for emergency or utility exit doors, loading/garbage areas, shadowed/dark areas in storage locker and parking areas. Perpetrators often seek out low light areas where they won't be noticed or disturbed; good lighting prevents this.
The security industry recommended standard for lighting is Light Emitting Diode (LED) type lighting because it provides a bright white light which is superior to incandescent and fluorescent lightning, and provides the best overall illumination where security cameras may be deployed with respect to facial recognition. Furthermore, LED lighting is extremely energy efficient and has a longer useable life of 50,000 to 100,000 hours of service versus fluorescent at 10,000 hours or incandescent at 1,200 hours. It must be noted LED lighting does have a higher initial cost for installation, but the energy savings and bulb replacement cost savings will make up the difference over time. In some municipalities and provinces; subsidies or grants may exist to assist residential and commercial building operators offset the initial installation costs of an LED lighting system.
Use bright paint colors. By painting your walls and ceilings white or off-whites you can increase the reflected light in stairwells, common areas and low traffic areas by up to 12%. (5, 6) Thus increasing the light in an at risk area, eliminating shadows and making the area less desirable to trespassers.
Communicate with residents. Maintain a positive, empathetic and collaborative relationship within your community and neighbourhood, as this will make your access to community concerns and information much more seamless. Don't forget to speak with your local police for any updates of concern in the neighbourhood. Keep residents informed on any developments that may impact your community in any way, and inform them as to what proactive or reactionary measures they should take. This will help prevent you from being inundated with questions later.
Restrict Access. All exterior entrances should be limited to FOB or card access only, and should exclusively have access authority granted to current and bonafide residents. Common area washrooms should remain locked and restricted to residents and bonafide guests. If possible, consider investing in a FOB access feature to your existing elevators. Doing so will limit where trespassers can go once they have entered the building.
Access Protocols. Work with your security provider to establish clear and concise access control protocols to ensure proper vetting of visitors and to only provide building access after consent is obtained by the resident. Ensure these protocols are in-writing for accountability purposes. It is then your security provider's responsibility to ensure, through their management, these protocols are being strictly and evenly enforced by security personnel.
Conduct a CCTV Optimization Analysis. CCTV is an effective three-tier tool in reducing crime on your property. The first tier is where the system is monitored "live" by a security guard who can respond immediately to an incident observed in real time. Unlike the old days, where a security guard was tasked with staring at a monitor for a full shift, waiting for something to happen, modern motion detect systems can sound an audible beep to alert the guard whenever motion at a preset threshold occurs on the monitor. Some security providers offer a service where they can monitor your current CCTV system in real time remotely at their facility. The second tier involves ensuring your cameras are secure but visible to all who enter the property. This provides a psychological deterrent. As well, the posting of video security signage is a good additional deterrent and in some municipalities may be a legal requirement. In the third tier, it is recognized CCTV cameras are often used solely for "after the fact" purposes, such as for evidence gathering by police and insurance providers. It must also be pointed out, if cameras are not actively monitored or even worse, non-functioning cameras are deployed with functioning ones, it may give a false sense of security and should someone become the victim of a crime, it may increase legal liability issues for the property owners. Based on studies conducted over a ten year period, CCTV is most effective when combined with other safety and security modalities such as improved lighting, safety mirrors and security guards. (7,8)
Install Safety Mirrors. Convex (curved) safety mirrors also called fisheye mirrors are an essential tool in helping secure garages and low traffic areas on your property. A convex mirror enables your residents, guests and staff to know what is around a corner in a low traffic area before they make a turn. As well, the use of a convex safety mirror when used in concert with good lighting, and painting walls in common or low traffic areas white as we have discussed can also increase illumination in, and sometimes further beyond the area because their convex (domed) shape will reflect light in multiple directions. Convex mirrors strategically placed in a CCTV monitored area can also extend the view of the camera, in some cases, even around a corner. Not to mention the added psychological deterrent the mirror may have. If you are considering installing a mirror in an outdoor location ensure that it has UV protection with a weatherproof exterior and for areas where vandalism is a major issue, you will need a stainless anti-ligature mirror.
Hire Additional Security. By hiring additional security, you are not compromising existing services your community already has in place. This additional security could be hired exclusively to safeguard the building's perimeter, patrol parking and other high risk areas, and as a back-up to permanent security personnel should they encounter or witness any access violations.
Maintenance is a key factor. Property areas that appear unkempt or rundown are open invitations to criminal activity and fears of not being safe for all building residents. The theory of "Broken Windows" (10) defined in 1982 by Wilson and Kelling states that when there are visible signs of disorder, disrepair and misbehavior, it encourages more disorder and can lead to serious crime. The idea is that, one unrepaired broken window is a sign no one cares about the property, so it doesn't matter if more windows are broken. It is critical to establish a maintenance routine and response plan.
In a survey conducted by The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2012, a study of 422 incarcerated burglars found that 41% stated their commission of crime was a "spur of the moment" action or crime of opportunity. (9) When asked what they felt were effective deterrents to them committing a crime, 67% said CCTV, 46% security or police presence and 38% a visible security sign (9) (psychological deterrent). Reducing trespassers, squatters, vandalism and other crimes of opportunity doesn't have to increase the cost of your current security services but merely requires you to assess the processes you currently have in place with a view of how best you can maximize your resources. The first step towards improvement is to speak with your security staff, maintenance staff and, of course your residents. Identify what works, what doesn't work and consider the 9 tips we have discussed.
Ryan Ricci is a Senior Executive with a proven history of successfully growing businesses and building brands. Mr. Ricci has over 15 years of experience in the private security sector, has an educational background in Criminal Justice, and has served on 2 community boards.
1 International Foundation for Protection Officers. (2010) The Professional Protection Officer: Practical Security Strategies and Emerging Trends. Butterworth- Heinemann, Burlington, MA.
2 Index Crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson. These eight crimes are considered a common indicator of the nation's crime experience due to their seriousness and frequency of occurrence. A Non-Index Crime is any other crime, and within the scope of our discussion, includes trespassing, squatting and vandalism.
3 Chalfin, A., Hansen, B., Lerner, J. and Parker, L. (2019) Reducing Crime Through Environmental Design: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment of Street Lighting in New York City. Crime Lab New York, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, PA.
4 Molony, R. (2020) Major Study Finds Outdoor Lighting Cut Crime by 39%. LUX Lighting Magazine, Revo Media Partners Ltd., London, UK.
5 Doleac, J.L. and Sanders, N.J. (2015) Under the Cover of Darkness: How Ambient Light Influences Criminal Activity. The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
6 Fennelly, L.J. (2020) Handbook of Loss Prevention and Crime Prevention. Elsevier, Cambridge, MA.
7 Gill, M. and Spriggs, A. (2005) Assessing the Impact of CCTV. Study 292. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, London, UK.
8 Gill, M. (2015) The Impact of CCTV: Fourteen Case Studies. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, London, UK.
9 Kuhnz, J.B. (2012) Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender's Perspective. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC.
10 Kelling, G.L. and Wilson, J.Q. (1982) Broken Windows. The Atlantic, Boston, MA.